A tall task, then, for Sam Caird and David Wolf, the co-directors, and their adaptor, Leo-Marcus Wan, but the good news is that in the guise of The Bunhill Theatrical Society their ambition has paid off and the show is a triumph.
The illusion promoted in the excellent programme (and shame on all the student companies that fail to come up with any programme at all ) that we are watching a Victorian troupe at work kicks off with 15 mins still to go before curtain-up as the cast of 18 + 1 (the supernumerary's presence only makes itself felt much, much later on) drift in ones and twos on stage, casually or rowdily at random, it would seem. But actually these entrances are as carefully plotted and arranged as the action will be for the whole of the 2 hour running time. This is an effective prologue as the audience is drawn into the show by the barrier between illusion and reality being subverted even before the word go.
I fear I lost the precise moves of the plot at a very early juncture, as the action plays out in dozens of short scenes that zigzag between the domestic and public spheres - from the House of Commons to a tavern, from a parade ground to a basement, from a church to a place of execution - but no matter. This is a stunning attempt at a total theatrical experience, a feast for eyes and ears. Our 18 actors play between them almost 50 roles on an elaborate, multi-level set constructed from scaffolding and ladders, and thick with dustsheets, old orange boxes and pallets.
The lighting is flexible, the dozens of scene and costume charges are carried out with astonishing slickness, and the choreographed movement is a delight. Not least effective were the street scenes as George Gordon rants to the rent-a-crowd, playing on their heedless rage and zeal for a ruckus; a disquieting prototype of a contemporary BNP demagogue. Nor is humour forgotten; a burlesque courtship in Act 2 between the public hangman (Adam Honeybone) and the servant girl Miggs alias Venus (Alexandra Hedges) was a highlight.
If I were to pick out a couple more of the cast I might choose George Duncan-Jones in several alternately truculent and comic roles and the ebullient Eva Tausig as an MP among other parts, but what was on offer here was wonderfully skilled ensemble acting adorning a production that makes me doubt it is possible for undergraduate theatre to rise to much greater heights than these.
There are four more chances to see the play - two matinees and two evening shows. On no account miss it.